I started talking about the pioneers of Petach Tikva, the first Zionist settlement. Who were these very earliest pioneers? They were the most orthodox Jews from Jerusalem wearing 'shtreimels,' the dark fur hats of the Middle Ages. After Petach Tikvah came Hibat Zion in the 1880s, also settled by orthodox Jews during the First Aliyah. The Second Aliyah immigrants who arrived prior to World War One were inspired by the social movements fermenting in Europe and especially by the Russian Revolution of 1905. But beneath the veneer they too were yeshiva 'buchers' - students who had received their education in the Jewish religious schools of Eastern Europe. After World War One came the Third Aliyah - our parents. And that was a generation of true rebels. But for all their revolutionary fire, they knew in their bones what it mean to be Jewish. They knew their culture, they spoke Hebrew. If I had mastered the richness of this language as my father did, I would be exceptionally proud. So that was a generation of rebels, but rebels with deep roots in Judaism.
The problem started with our generation. Because we were the sons and daughters of rebels, we had no Judaism in our upbringing whatsoever. The result was that our generation in a way lost its roots, the first to have done so. What did we know about Jewish wisdom? What did we know about Jewish contributions to the world or about the Jewish presence here in Israel? Very little. Were we taught to be proud that we were Jews, descendants of those Jews who through the ages had fought to the death for their beliefs? No, we were not taught these things. Instead, with our generation there was an attempt to create not Jews but New Israeli Men and Women. In the process we were disconnected from those earlier generations whose Jewishness was inscribed in their hearts.
And the outside world saw this too. I remember back in the 1950s and '60s when I was traveling abroad I felt the desire by others to consider me not a Jew but as an Israeli, to draw the distinction. You are an Israeli, they seemed to say. They, those people over there with strange clothes and strange ways - they are Jews. And in a way it felt easy to be accepted like that. But it was also dangerous. It was a signal that we had lost our Jewishness. And I for one, even then, never believed we would really be able to survive here if we were nothing more than Israelis. For our attachment to the land of Israel, our identity with it, comes through out Jewishness. I am a Jew, I thought then, as I think now. That does not mean I am a religious man. I am not. When it comes to practicing Judaism, there is much I do not know. But I do know for certain that above everything I am a Jew and only afterwards an Israeli and the rest.
Never a truer word spoken by the man. The harsh assessment of the last paragraph is one we all need to heed: We must understand why we're here. We must understand that our future depends on realizing the path paved by the generations that came before us. Let us not forget that, as the last sentence says so eloquently, we are Jews above everything else - and that's what should unite us and guide us through good times and bad times in this country.